Rebuilding G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief

Sometimes I like to take on a technical challenge and I thought that converting G1 to D&D5e would be an interesting thing to try.  I thought that it would be cool to see how well 5e would overlay upon the old bones of G1 and it would be interesting to discern how much of the original AD&D model would still shine-through while creating a Fantasy Grounds module.

Schley’s version is a great improvement, being rendered in a 5′ scale

So I gathered up a copy of G1 and the first task seemed to be to either make or find a high resolution battle map.  A little bit of search engine action later, and I was staring in amazement at a Mike Schley version of the two maps in G1.  They were not a one-to-one match, but very, very similar while getting the job done.  Actually, Schley’s version is a great improvement, being rendered in a 5′ scale while the original was in 10′ map square.  I became a patron of Mr. Schley’s web store and bought the two maps.

David C. Sutherland III cover art for the original G1 module

Once I had the maps, I started to wonder if Mike just took on old modules and made maps, or what.  Why in the heck did he make this map?

The entire G-series was remade for the 4th Edition of D&D

It turns out that the entire G-series was remade for the 4th Edition of D&D starting in the pages of Dungeon 197 and subsequently reappearing in 199 and climaxing in issue 200.  It was designed for level 13-14+ characters, which made me a bit unhappy since the original G1 was designed for level 8 or 9 adventurers.  I am still targeting the level 8-9 range because I’d prefer to keep at least that much consistent.

Fantasy Grounds screen shot of the Steading map and adventure text
Mike Schley’s excellent map serves as the anchor for my conversion of the G1 module to D&D5e and as a Fantasy Grounds module

Reviewing the pages of Dungeon 197, I was actually very, very pleased with how they had structured it.  The Steading was zoned off into logical areas and it was tied into what would happen if an alarm was sounded.

A 25th Anniversary edition of the G-series was released as Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff

Still looking at things through a historical lens, I discovered that a 25th Anniversary edition of the G-series was released as Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff in 1999.  I suppose that this was swan song of D&D2e material – but it is not available online, so my interest in it died.

Very, very early into this conversion, you have to stare down the barrel of Gygax’s player killing design.  The second room in the original module contains over 25 giants.  If the alarm goes up elsewhere in the structure and this group fans out and gets organized, it could be very easy for a party to do a full wipe.

The second room in the original module contains over 25 giants.

Conversely, a room filled with Giants is an AoE wet dream.  I can still recall the party that I DMed for hitting that room with wands, a necklace of fireballs, and of course an actual fireball cast by the party mage.  Of the 25 giants, most were dead or nearly dead and the room was really an irresistibly huge XP pool and my group of players happily cannon-balled and belly-flopped into the warm, warm waters of combat experience.

Fantasy Grounds chart for use in G1 module
This is one of the custom charts to generate mundane finds when searching.

In fairness, things were quite a bit different back in D&D1e days.  Damage inflation hadn’t happened – doing over 10 points of damage on a single attack was doing good.  The giants of the time had hit points listed as: H.P.: 44, 3 x 40, 39, 5 x 38, 5 x 37, 3 x 36, 33, 30, 2 x 27.

Your average run of the mill D&D5e Hill Giant has 105 hit points – close to 3x the average hit points of the giants in the original encounter listed above.  More problematic for the players, these giants will not crumple and fold under the incandescent glow of a few fireballs.

So the number of foes has to be reduced – even an expert party would go down under the crushing power of 25 giants.  It still needs to be an overpowering group of grubby hill giants, one that you do not want to face in a fair fight, but something closer to manageable in case the party decides to risk direct conflict.

What I ended up with was a CR 16 group worth 14600 XP – not yet modified for difficulty which will be deadly.  The group summarizes as:

  1. Stone Giants x 2 (one being the chief Nosnra, one being the stone giant emissary)
  2. Hill Giants x 5.  I really considered going with three (one giant for each seat at the table), but decided to dig in the spurs and make sure the group had significant gravity
  3. Dire Bear x 1.  The chief has a pet bear and animals might pose problems or opportunities depending upon the group and their plans.  To create the bear, I modified a polar bear, gave it more hit dice (7d10), renamed it to DIRE BEAR and patted myself on the back.

Get the hardest encounter tuned and the rest of it just sort of falls into place.

Getting the principal encounter on the map ‘tuned’ to level 8 or 9 made me feel pretty good about how the rest of the adventure will turn out.  I think that I will use this approach during future conversions – get the hardest encounter tuned and the rest of it just sort of falls into place.

Area 01 summary (CR9 XP 4950):

  1. Hill Giants x 2 (one on the tower, one asleep against the main doors)
  2. Ogres x 3 (asleep near the main gate)

Add one more ogre and the difficulty jumps from HARD to DEADLY, so this monster encounter is a pretty good acid test to see if the group of players is ready for adventure inside the Steading.  If you are unsure, fudge it into an full encounter and if the party struggles, they might want to fall-back.

Area 03 summary (CR14, XP 11250)

  1. Morzul, Hill Giantess Shaman (started with a Hill Giant, copied the three powers from the article in Dungeon 197 and removed rock throwing – she is asleep in her room)
  2. Hill Giants x 3 (these guys are asleep and scattered in beds in two rooms)
  3. Hill Giant Younglings x 9 (I took an ogre and converted it into a Hill Giant youth.  The players have three rounds to get this group down before they attract the attention of the adult Hill Giants whereupon things could take a turn for the worse)

This is a controlled situation where player choices will make a difference.  If the adults become involved, the situation could deteriorate very quickly.

The Vault of Stenious Strauss (Pt 1)

I’ve been working on a module for five players of the 5th level.  I’ve been struggling with how I want to present it here and have decided to talk more about the technical aspects (pens, paper, scanners, software) and a bit less of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition (D&D 5e) choices that I’ve made.  The goal here is be more concerned with illustrating the creative process and less concerned with the nuts and bolts of rules.

Getting Started

After floundering around with several pieces of software to create digital maps, I finally tired of getting no where at all and ordered a pad of 11″ x 17″ graph paper with a 1/4″ grid.  I prefer a larger pad so I do not feel quite as cramped and it affords me room to make notes as needed.

By now, I already have a solid mental picture of what I want from the dungeon. It was constructed by a very wealthy alchemist named Stenious Strauss to protect a powerful alchemical weapon that he had made.  Because of this, I created the following criteria for the dungeon:

  • It will be heavy on large-scale situational traps.
  • It will be expertly constructed and of very fine quality.
  • It will not have been penetrated or otherwise entered in more than 200 years, so most opponents will need to be undead, elementals, constructs, or otherwise be able to survive for long periods.

Once we had a few ground rules, a handful of expectations and logical conclusions, things started to roll along much faster.  The plot details initiated an explosion of directed, well-focused production.  The more fuel you have on hand, the easier it is to get a creative fire burning.

The plot details initiated an explosion of directed, well-focused production.

Brainstorming, I developed a list of possible opponents that include Ogre Zombies, Flesh Golems, Quipper Swarms, a custom door greeter to set the tone, and a few other custom creatures once we get a bit deeper into this. It was more than enough to get started.

It is worth mentioning that much of my creature planning is done on and I find this site invaluable.  I also use which is a great place for getting the specifics for each creature in an encounter, all without opening a book.

Armed with this information, I sketched out the following map:

Vault of Stenious Strauss map (6 of 20+ rooms done)

Now I had something on paper and had a pretty good mental picture of how each of these rooms would work.

Increasing Detail

As the map got more detailed, I considered how I wanted several traps to work and made diagrams for them (sketches seen in the recent post about traps and arbitrary player character murder.)  I feel that it is very important to set a tone early in the halls of a dungeon that give the players an expectation, a foreshadowing of what is likely to transpire as they advance through the dungeon.  Of the first eight rooms, seven of them have traps.  After this insidious introduction, they should be much more aware and studious in their attempts to locate and disarm any traps that they might encounter.

Of the first eight rooms, seven of them have traps.

I now had enough to start writing room descriptions.  When finished, each room was taking up about 2 pages of paper, which I suppose was the price of having complex traps..  This added increasingly more detail for the map and I added notes or more detail to the sketch and fleshed it out a bit more.

Vault of Stenious Strauss, stage 2

Because I was enjoying myself and wanted the detail to stand out a bit more, I colored the paper very, very lightly with watercolor pencils which I activated with a brush that was only lightly dampened.  The paper is thin and has buckled, but it is a lot nicer upon the eye.

Continuing forward…  I will convert the hand-drawn map to a digital format with Fractal Mapper 8 – this is already almost done.  Though the dungeon isn’t fully completed, the players have already arrived and have penetrated over half of the rooms.

– Kilgore

Campaign Map – Initial Rough Draft

Back in December of 2015, I spent part of an afternoon with a pen and paper and sketched the outline a continent.  A few days later, I decided to run a campaign – but as soon as possible which meant using an existing campaign world. So I put the campaign map aside and concentrated entirely on how to get a campaign up and running as quickly as possible.

Now I have some breathing room, and I am back to where I started – with the outline of a continent or a super-sized island.  The need to create is overpowering most of my other pursuits.  Here is the continent outline:

Scanned image of a pen and pencil continent outline
Scanned image of a pen and pencil continent outline

The vague initial notion while sketching the outline was that this would be a world so dominated by large, nasty sea-going creatures that the only feasible naval activities would be in the shallower inner sea.  Nations would crowd around the smaller but far safer body of water and conduct trade, war, and it would be awash with the activity of the civilized races.

Needing mapping tools, I first purchased NBOS’ well regarded Fractal Mapper 8.  It is powerful enough and has a lot to recommend it.  I like a great deal it for dungeon mapping and battle-map creation, but I don’t care for the overland mapping.  It is too…fiddly for my needs.  You could (and I could and did) spend a lot of time re-sizing and positioning map imagery.

You can really blaze through world creation…

Then I looked at Hexographer and also bought it.  Hexographer is down and dirty, far less functional than Fractal Mapper, but so clearly focused on a singular task that it is both easier to use and far more goal orientated.  You can really blaze through world creation which, for my needs, is almost perfect.  I wanted to hash out the rough outline of the campaign map with the intent of coming back and drawing the entire map by hand from the diagram that Hexographer allows me to create. I’d have no problem GMing from the resultant Hexographer maps, but I’d greatly prefer to invest the time to create my own hand-drawn, highly emotive campaign map which will take a sizable investment in time and effort to create.

Here is what I’ve done in Hexographer:

Campaign map prototype
First prototype of a currently nameless campaign world

You will note that it has no river basins drawn, virtually no towns, roads, trails or national markings.  It will come – I need a little time to think on the lay of the land and how I want things to play out.  Rivers make natural borders which is why it requires more than a little time to hash-out where all of the races will be located.

I also did some checking and with a 36-mile hex, this landmass represents around 18-22% of an area the size of Australia.  Not that huge, but large enough for my needs.

I will add to this map and associated dialogue over the coming weeks and perhaps months.

A little preliminary campaign background info…

Humankind will be a young, low population race that relies heavily upon the good graces of the Elves.  The Elves, being out numbered by races that are hostile to them and having a poor reproduction rate, are more than happy to have the fast-breeding humans acting as a buffer against their enemies.

A social and political union of the Dwarf and Gnome will be the strongest non-evil force and neutrality will be well-represented.  Greed and avarice will mark their goals and they will not be the best of neighbors as a result.

Small distinctions of mapping

I spent 4 years in the US Army infantry back in the ’80s and got to spend a great deal of time in difficult terrain.  We maneuvered in the sand dunes of Germany.  Yeah, no shit, Germany has an area near Mainz that has a neighboring geological freak zone locally referred to as ‘the dunes.’

While I was in the states, I was stationed in Louisiana with the Red Devils 5th Infantry Division at Fort Polk.  Much of the land there was wet and muddy and there was a lot of wildlife taking advantage of the heavy cover. I recall the base commander’s dog went swimming and subsequently became an alligator snack.

All these year later, it occurred to me that I never really knew if I was in a swamp or marsh.  I always assumed that it was a swamp since it was inland.  Working on mapping icons, I became aware that even though I have spent a great deal of time in swamps – and probably marshes, too – I really didn’t understand the distinction between the two.

Searching the internet, I discovered this gem of an image:

Marches vs Swamps
Your tax dollars at work!

Here is a USGS graphic that does an excellent job of making it clear. Basically, swamps are dominated by hardwood trees, while marshes are marked by grasses.

What does this mean for mapping and gaming?  Well, marsh and swamp should go hand in hand – it would be impossible to have one without the other.  It would be much easier to hide in a swamp than a marsh and it would probably be easier to move through a marsh.

I also have realized that many, many terrain features will span large numbers of half-mile hexes.  Colorized hexes will have to be used to describe the core terrain.  While I don’t want to create maps that are inaccessible by those of you that are color-blind, I also don’t want to have a mountain icon stamped on every 1/2 hex.

Building a hex grid in Adobe Illustrator

Here are a set of steps that will help you to create a custom hex grid.  The instructions are for Adobe Illustrator CS6, but I suspect that they work fine back to CS4.

6-mile hex at 1 mile hex scale
The very definition of a 6-mile hex at the more commonly used 1-mile scale
  1. Start a new 8.5″ x 11″ document with landscape orientation
  2. Select the polygon tool and click on the page. Set the tool to .3” radius and 6 points.
  3. Place the newly created hexagon in the upper left-hand corner of the artboard
  4. With the hexagon shape selected, click on EFFECT → DISTORT & TRANSFORM → TRANSFORM
  5. Set Preview to ON
  6. Set Horizontal move to .45”
  7. Set Vertical move to .26”
  8. Enable REFLECT X
  9. Tell it to create 32 copies (takes us off the bottom of page)
  10. Click on OK
  11. Deselect and reselect the first hexagon (only the first can be selected)
  12. With the hexagon shape selected, click on EFFECT → DISTORT & TRANSFORM → TRANSFORM
  13. If necessary, click “Apply New Effect” button
  14. Turn on the preview
  15. Set the Horizontal move to .9”
  16. Set the number of copies to 12
  17. Click on OK
  18. (Make your changes to line thickness / style as you wish – last chance to do it uniformly.)
  19. With the hexagon selected, set the fill color to none (transparent)
  20. Select OBJECT → Expand…
  21. Select OBJECT → Path → Outline Stroke
  22. With all of the objects still selected (CTRL-A if they are not), Select WINDOW → Pathfinder and click on Unite (the first option)
6-mile hex at 1/2 mile scale
6-hex at 1/2 mile grid resolution (i.e. 12 hexes from top to bottom)

Once you have the basic components, you can easily create custom mapping sheets with the hex-grid scaled to match your needs.  These instructions were gleaned from a video over at

Map Art – first piece done

Dispensing with mapping software, I’m getting started on building a library of images that will make me happy with my cartography.  First of many, many pieces is done…


This was lifted from a map of Paris circa 1550 and rendered as a vector graphic.  There are three other corners…. But being able to flip graphics easily, I am likely to only grab one of the bottom corners.


4/5/2016 – Completed the South-West corner.  Since it is easy enough to flip and place these, no pressing need for to create unique art assets for the missing two corners.


Campaign Goals and Hex Map Scales

I am starting to ponder all of the many parts and pieces of a self-generated campaign setting. This got me to thinking about scale mechanics and how I wanted to represent the game world.  I am a hex-crawler, so I’ve already jumped the initial hurdle of campaign map style.

It may sound a bit ambitious at first, but I am going to map at a 1/2 mile scale in detailed regions and use 6-mile hexes to display the detailed portion of the game world.  The 6-mile hexes upscale to 36-mile hexes which would be fine for the ‘lower resolution view’ of a campaign map.

6-mile super hex
A perfectly formed 6-mile super-hex displayed at 1/2 mile per normal hex.  Shexy!

The goal is to use a mapping scale that is friendly to displaying the location of villages and minor terrain features such as normal-sized lakes.  Really, any feature that isn’t on an epic scale could be comfortably depicted.

The reason that this scale is important to me is because I plan to set the campaign in an era where human affairs are dominated primarily by loose bands of City States. Placing villages, large holdings, resource points, and other important markers onto a map scaled to handle such things is critical to accurately portraying the holdings of a given City State.

City States require a network of villages to provide food production and other base resources for the dwellers of the city.  In turn, the villagers trade their food, furs, and raw materials for finished products and the city state also has men at arms that protect the small villages.  When war does come, the farmers flood the city seeking the protection of walls and warriors. Systems of roads, bridges, and towers might be employed by wealthier City States.

Anyhow, the first task is to get the 36-mile campaign map started.  I will probably focus on a smaller continent  and get going on it with a larger goal of developing a map reference system, semi-random map generation tables, and to generally get in the thick of just doing it so I can better see how I want to proceed.

So the initial goal is to build the lower level tools that I will need to build the maps.  Default hex-grid templates and a coordinate or reference system seems like a good place to start.

D&D 5th Edition Zombies

It was not a half-hearted attempt to put the player at a disadvantage while engaging some mindless, brain-eating zombies.  It was a HARD level encounter for 5th level characters and it was augmented by a trap that had split the group.  It was a serious encounter.

Ogre Zombies stirred, shambling towards the ramp, ready to hammer the dwarf relentlessly.

The party’s Dwarven fighter had triggered the trap – a section of the floor had dropped, suddenly forming a ramp.  In the dark chambers below, Ogre Zombies stirred, shambling towards the ramp, ready to hammer the dwarf relentlessly.

By Creative Tail [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Unhappy zombie gets no brains….
The party’s bard had other ideas.  He went second in the encounter initiative order and strummed up some trouble on his electric lute in the form of Hypnotic Gaze.  All six of the ogre zombies were in the area of effect and it was then that I noticed that their only immunity was against poison.


In 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, zombies (and several other forms of undead) no longer have their long-held immunities to charm and other forms of mentally influencing magic.  In fact, they have poor wisdom scores and are actually rather susceptible spells of this nature.

It was an insanely easy 5k of experience to earn and the encounter was over almost before it had began.

Of the 6 Ogre Zombies, only a single one made a save and he was mowed down.  The party quickly reset the trap, and with the Ogre Zombie sealed safely inside the hidden chamber, they moved on.  It was an insanely easy 5k of experience to earn and the encounter was over almost before it had began.

If you are a DM, you might want to closely examine the creatures you intend to use – they may have been watered down or otherwise altered.  If you are a player, Hypnotic Gaze is a green-light for combating the zombie apocalypse.  In fact, being a zombie hunter could be an easy way to earn a lot of experience assuming you have hypnotic gaze available.

Famous Face – Gregory Hines

Gregory Hines as a Wizard or other spell caster
Gregory Hines as a Wizard or other spell caster

Gregory Hines was an outstanding dancer and actor.  He was taken from us far too early. I mean him no disrespect by portraying him as an RPG spell caster – it is just an off-beat way to remember a wonderful man.

The illustration made with Mischief which was reviewed earlier.  My questionable skill as an artist does not represent even a fraction of what the software is capable of achieving.